Monday, June 06, 2022

The Jubilee

The Queen has been on the job for 70 years. That's an unimaginably long time in one job for most of us. Unimpeded by the sort of reorganisations and reshuffles that affect many of us, she has devoted herself to her role. She has been a constant during 8 decades of change in the UK and the world. And even as she has changed and adapted, she has done so with grace, dedication, and an integrity that contrasts with many of our elected and other leaders.

The Jubilee, and celebration of the Queen's 70 year reign, remind us of just how far Her Majesty's Government has drifted from the values on which our society has been built.

Some will say that now is not the time to speak of such matters - but this Jubilee makes the contrast so start it cannot and should not be ignored. Others might say it's unpatriotic to tell uncomfortable truths about our country - especially on such an occasion. But I believe the real stain on our national life -  what is really dragging our public life through the mud - the actual negative - is not people who love their country but constructively criticise its faults, or those who lament the rising tide of evil, or call us to be our better selves. The fault lies with those who have let us all down, who have betrayed their office, and who by their venality, entitlement, incompetence, mean-spiritedness, and lack of integrity have made the country and its government an object of ridicule, and who (like rotten apples in a barrel) threaten to spread their rot through the whole of society.

The fish rots from the head, and our current head of government, the Prime Minister, has shown himself to be a morality-free zone. At every step of the partygate fiasco he has tried to lie or brazen his way out of it, or sacrifice more junior minions. In this affair, as always, he has organised a parade of ministers and ambitious but unprincipled backbenchers to lie for him - sometimes contradicting their lies the very next day. He lied about an oven-ready Brexit deal, lied as he signed it while promising to drop it later (we still don't know which promise, if any, he intends to keep). He told parliament at the time that the deal was in full compliance with the Good Friday Agreement, but now he expects us to believe that it's undermining it. He lied about how many new hospitals he was building, about how many doctors and nurses he would recruit. He lied about Brexit enabling the vaccine rollout (which began to build the country's immunity while we were bound by EU rules). He even lied to the Queen about why he was proroguing parliament. He was sacked from two previous jobs for lying, for goodness sake. And people have started to notice.

But it's not just the PM, and his own sense of entitlement to rule. It's not just one rule for them, and another rule for the rest of us.  It's not even the way he keeps changing the rules when he or his friends are accused of breaking them.

During the pandemic, his government oversaw a massively corrupt operation to channel taxpayers' money into the pockets of party donors and friends of government minsters and MPs, in exchange for pretending to deliver pretend PPE. Then they decided not to investigate the many frauds.

His Chancellor cut Universal Credit, then had the audacity to claim - when the cost of living started to bite - that he could only increase it once a year without updating his computers. He raised National Insurance on earned income, but left unearned income (like the capital gains his family lives off) and wealth (like his family has in eye-watering amounts) untouched. No conflict of interest there! He was eventually dragged, kicking and screaming, into a U-Turn on taxing the profiteering oil companies - he clearly felt it wasn't important enough to do without being forced into it.

Even while the Queen takes part in a video where a famous migrant has tea at the palace, and she shares a marmalade sandwhich with Paddington Bear, the secretary of state, Priti Patel, is about to breach our international moral and legal obligations to help genuine refugees, by sending them on a one-way trip to Rwanda (if they are found to be genuine refugees, they get to stay - in Rwanda). The civil service told her it's unworkable, illegal, and terrible value for money - but she insisted. To cap it all, she claims that there are no alternatives. After a few moments' thought, I came up with a few (and she has a whole Ministry, unless she's bullied them all into silence):

  • Recruit enough people to process asylum claims in a reasonable time - so we don't need to support them on welfare while they wait for months or years to hear if they can stay.
  • Don't waste the £30,000 or whatever it costs per refugee on routinely locking so many of them up in privatised prisons. Stop using prisons (whatever they pretend to call them) as a first resort in so many cases. At that cost, each of the detained refugees could have their own case handler, working full time - even with the recent Tory increase in National Insurance. The backlog would be cleared in no time.
  • Allow refugees to work or volunteer, instead of expecting them to live in substandard hovels on £30 a week.
  • If she's worried about refugees entering the country illegally, provide legal routes for them to claim asylum in the UK.
  • Stop pretending we're swamped by refugees, when the UK is one of the least generous countries by number of refugees per capita.
  • Stop pretending that most refugees are bogus.
  • Get a grip on the system that denies asylum to so many genuine claimants - only for them to be allowed to stay on appeal. Why not get it right first time? Get the assessors to, you know, look at the evidence that has been submitted.

And if you don't like something the government is doing, they have restricted your right to protest. A protest can be banned if it's too "annoying" or too "loud". Better hope you like everything else they have planned for us.

And don't depend on the courts to protect your rights, since they plan to cut back on that. They don't like the prospect of accountability - for them, at least.

The media won't be clamouring to tell us what they are doing wrong. Channel 4 tried that, and now Nadine Dorries, our hapless Culture Secretary, is about to sell them off to a multi-millionaire media baron or mulitnational. Clearly the new owner will understand the struggles that ordinary people are facing, and hold the rich and powerful to account.

And as for voting them out, they thought of that. They are gerrymandering the constituencies, based on the size of the electoral roll, rather than the normal practice of using the Census. This has the cunning benefit (if you're unprincipled and right wing) of under-counting poor people. And in case that doesn't work, they plan to remove the independence of the Electoral Comission.

So the problem is not just the PM - it's the ministers and back benchers who fave facilitated his dishonesty, corruption, and attacks on the weak for so long.

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